The interview took place in Los Angeles two days after finishing the Games and with the experience fresh in the mind. Erik Lau Kelner, Björgvin’s weightlifting coach, did the interview.
Erik: You have had a great season, the best of your short career. There are so many questions that I want to ask you and different topics to delve into. In order to stay on topic I will try to limit my questions to your experience at The Games and a detailed account of your performance in each event. Hopefully this will be the first but not the last interview.
Let’s get to it then. How did you feel the week leading up to the competition and up until the last minute before the first event on the beach?
Björgvin: I was ready both physically and mentally. I was just waiting for it all to begin. I also tried to avoid talking about it or getting dragged into conversations about the specific events announced. I didn’t want to overthink it.
Erik: How nervous were you the minute before the first event and can you comment on the difference between being nervous in the bad way and feeling the adrenaline rush in a good way?
Björgvin: I was really nervous but confident at the same time. I have been swimming a lot for the last six months with help from a former national coach in Iceland. His name is Magnús Tryggvason and he has been very generous in helping me. I knew that I was well-prepared and gained confidence from that fact.
I never get nervous in a bad way and think people only do that if they are not well-prepared for the event and in some sense don’t want to be there. I am always happy to be there and ready to compete.
Erik: What do you think of your performance in Event 1?
Björgvin: I am happy with the 20th place. It was the first time I swam in open water and it’s very different with the big waves. I had to change from free style to breaststrokes on the way out to control the breathing. I felt dizzy every time I got out of the water. I don’t know why. It went away when I started with the thrusters.
Erik: I know that you had thought about going unbroken on the thrusters but you changed that fairly quickly on the go. Why?
Björgvin: I thought about going unbroken on the thrusters or at least get a big set from the start and then scoop up the rest quickly. However, in thirty degrees (Celsius), on sand and after a swim, I realized that it was not going to happen.
Erik: So you don’t go into an event with a specific strategy that you stick to?
Björgvin: No, I am always willing to change things if I have to. I have an idea of how I want the event to go down but will make the necessary changes throughout. This approach is not for everybody. Many people will get stressed, nervous and burn out.
Erik: Before the event there was a lot of talk among the coaches about the proper strategy to get from the beach to the water. A big concern, seriously, was how to avoid getting kicked in the head while entering the water with so many ferocious athletes.
Björgvin: Thinking back I don’t think it made a big difference how fast you got to the water because the waves pretty much took away that advantage. I think it was more important to be in either side instead of the middle because it made navigating easier. Fortunately I did not get kicked in the head but some probably did.
Erik: Event 2 was the overhead squat from rack with three attempts in five minutes intervals. We had plenty of time for the warm-up but after the athletes in a given heat had been called in they had to wait for 25 minutes before actually entering the tennis stadium. They were waiting beneath the stadium in a place fully equipped with racks, plates and barbells. Because of this specific setup we chose to utilize the Kazakhstani approach. We did a thorough warm-up and then build up in the competition exercise – OHS f. rack – to 130 kilos, close to the starting weight. The last lift was done a few minutes before going to the waiting area where you did another wave, which ended on 120. The third was done in the competition where you went all out.
Björgvin: Yes, this approach worked well. I am used to this from training.
They made sure it was one athlete at the time going at it and you had about twenty seconds to perform the lift. Dave Castro actually turned towards the athlete and said “lift”.
My starting weight was 295/134, which felt great. The next lift was 316/143, which was a PR. That lift felt surprisingly good. It was because this lift felt so good that I made the big jump to 335/151. I jerked it, went down but on the way up I felt something in my left elbow and at the same time the legs gave out.
I overextended my left elbow in a hang snatch before the Regionals and have felt it from time to time. The weight was just too heavy and even with additional attempts I wouldn’t have made it that day. I am happy with my performance and after all I made a new personal best.
Erik: The following day, Thursday, was a rest day. On Friday the action started again and the first workout was The Triplet. 3000 meters rowing, 300 double unders and a three miles (4,8 km) run. Tell me about it.
Björgvin: My plan was to row at a 1:46-1:48 pace but I slowed it down to 1:49-1:50 on the last 700 meters because it was so hot that I felt I was using too much energy. My plan on the double unders was to do fifty reps at the time. The setting was such that you had to move forward when you reached 100-200-250. If you continued the judge would have stopped you. Unfortunately I had a judge that didn’t count loud and clear so I couldn’t hear her at all and had to stop and check. This cost me some time.
I think the running was good. I surpassed 10-15 guys and had a last 100-meter sprint to keep off one competitor.
Erik: How did the heat affect you in the run?
Björgvin: It was actually better than I thought. There was water at several destinations and I took one every time I could. I didn’t drink the water but splashed it into my face in order to cool down. Before the event started I held on to ice cubes for 5-10 minutes to cool my body down. I think it made a difference.
Erik: The climate in LA is obviously much different than that in Iceland. How did you handle the heat?
Björgvin: It was much better and easier than I expected. I was constantly warm and felt the effect on the muscles and joints. I hardly felt the need to warm up. I also used plenty of sun lotion and only got into the sun when I was competing. No tanning between events.
Negatively, I felt the jet lag much more. It took a couple of days to get used to it. Fortunately we arrived in good time for the competition.
Erik: I agree about the warm weather and the positive effect it has on ones body. Do you have anything positive to say about the Icelandic weather?
Björgvin: The weather in Iceland can and does change extremely fast. It can go from raining, to sunshine, to snowing, to storm all in one hour. It makes people prepared for the unexpected and makes you more mentally tough, I think.
Because of the very long and dark winter Icelanders will also go all in on training.
Erik: Next up Friday was the sprint sled. Didn’t look too comfortable.
Björgvin: That were the only events were I felt that the heat made it more difficult to breath. It was two events: push it down, short break, and then back.
On the way back my legs were totally fried and almost stopped working. I have never felt so miserable before and after crossing the line I actually called the medics to take me somewhere. I ended up in the shadow with ice and water.
Erik: Friday ended with a surprise event: 21-15-9 Complex. It went great with you winning your heat and overall placing 6th. Tell me about it.
Björgvin: We went directly from the soccer- to the tennis stadium to hear the announcement. Males before females in this event and I was in the first heat. I literally had to run back to the warm-up area with only five minutes to work with. My plan was to go unbroken on deadlifts and powers cleans but only do singles in snatch. I had no plan for the gymnastics but took it on feel.
I do well in these kinds of workouts because it is pure weightlifting and gymnastics combined. I think my consistency in the weightlifting, especially in snatch, and my efficiency in bar muscle-ups made the difference.
Erik: The weight on the barbell was about 70 kilos. Imagine it had been 90. How would you have done then? Better or worse?
Björgvin: I would still have power snatched the weight but gradually caught it deeper out of necessity. I would, however, stick to power snatch instead of snatch. I would also take more time between the lifts and be more aware of the starting position. I don’t think it would have changed my overall ranking.
Erik: On to Saturday.
Björgvin: Biathlon. Running and muscle-ups. It went as planned. I divided every round of muscle-ups in two and managed to beat several guys that went unbroken in the first round. The goal for this workout was to avoid hitting the wall due to muscle fatigue but it was designed to push the athletes in that direction by punishing them for splitting up the set.
Erik: When watching your last round of 12 reps I was surprised that you didn’t try to go unbroken. Afterwards you told me that your muscle-ups, like solid technical weightlifting, are deceiving. If your technique is really good it can sometimes look like you’re not pushing the limit. Please elaborate on that.
Björgvin: Instead of taking a big chance, I decided to start immediately on the 12 reps when I got back from the run and do them in a good steady pace. Had I tried to go unbroken I would have had to wait for at least half a minute before starting, do them all in a slower pace. And what, then, if I had failed in the end and burned out my triceps? A lot of very experienced guys gambled, hit the wall, had to run and then finish up. I was happy with my strategy.
Erik: The Odd Carry event was next. When it was over I remember criticizing you for going too slow in the last round, which resulted in several guys catching up even though you had a good lead. I also said that you just looked tired when you crossed the finish line but not in need of a medic as with the sprint sled.
What are your thoughts now?
Björgvin: It was a different kind of workout from the sprint sled. I don’t think I could have ended up exhausted like that in any case. I think my pace with the obstacles was good and it was on the way back that I was too slow. I agree.
Erik: Next up was the Speed Clean Ladder. I helped you with the warm-up, which went well. Good technique and power. You didn’t’ made the cut, however. What went wrong?
Björgvin: Only one problem. The transition from barbell to barbell was slow. My technique was good, legs were good, grip and posture was good. The workout went faster than I thought it would. I have to practice on executing even faster.
Erik: Saturday’s last event was strict handstand push-ups and sled pulls. How did you do?
Björgvin: I think I did well. In the warm-up I got really nervous, though. I knew that the sled pull would end up being loaded with six red plates but in the warm-up I only did it with four blue ones and thought: “Fuck that’s heavy!” It was because of the mats, which were very sticky. In the competition the surface was much more slippery and the weight do-able.
The plan was to start fast and leave nothing in the tank. I really liked that we had to unlock the rope and lock it to the next one. You needed fast transitions and to think during the workout.
Erik: How about the technique for the sled pulls. People were doing it very differently and almost everybody mixed it up and experimented throughout the workout. What’s your perspective on this?
Björgvin: On the first two sled pulls when the weight was light, I kept standing and focused on using my back to pull. When it got heavier I sat down and used the sandbag to support. I would lean forward as much as possible and then lean back as far as possible.
Erik: British Steven Fawcett won the strict handstand push-ups event at the European Regionals. He told me later on that he does strict handstand push-ups in workouts and only kips if he has to. Would you consider taking that approach?
Björgvin: Yes, it makes a lot of sense. I have a very efficient kip and need to get stronger shoulders and triceps in order to improve.
If you don’t have good technique, I think you should only do it strict as strength training and use the kip in workouts to improve it. In the end you need both technique and strength.
Erik: Sunday, last day of the competition. How did you feel in the morning?
Björgvin: I actually felt really good. Better than the last day of Regionals. I was sore but nothing serious and no pain.
Erik: The first event was Midline March. How did it go?
Björgvin: Really good. Much better than when I tried one round in CrossFit Long Beach, jet-lagged when I got to LA. The GHD sit-ups weren’t a problem and I am good at handstand walk. I wanted to do all the overhead lunges without breaks but ended up crashing in the last one at the very end. My shoulders just couldn’t keep the barbell overhead any longer. I should have dropped it half way, waited a couple of seconds and completed.
Erik: In the morning we knew that there would be two additional events yet to be announced. The first one came out: rope climbs and heavy overhead squats. Tell, tell.
Björgvin: Every heat was to finish their CF Games 2014 and stay on the floor until it was all over. I knew about the first event but not the Double Grace, which was the finisher. All the athletes were taken to a room with absolutely no electronic equipment allowed. Nobody knew how it would end.
Erik: How did the first of the last two events go?
Björgvin: I rushed it too much and should have taken longer breaks between each climb. I was very happy with my technique on the way down. I used a new technique that was taught to me by Signe Løve Anderskov. She has also helped me improve my handstand hold and walk. The rope was very thick and slippery so I had a difficult time using my feet effectively. In the end it was mostly a technical problem that will not happen again.
Erik: Double Grace! Miserable! Your technique was very good throughout. You got a few no-reps for not extending the hip before you dropped the barbell. Some athletes did push-press and others did power jerk/push-jerk. You did the latter. Why? What was your strategy going in?
Björgvin: My shoulders would completely burn out had I push-pressed the weight. I have always done power jerk in Grace.
Strategically, I think it can make sense to do touch and go on Grace but a Double Grace is just way too long for that. I did singles from the start but speeded it up in the end. It was a great workout and it made me sore the day after.
Erik: I want to ask you one last question. How do you feel about Rich Froning winning for the fourth consecutive time?
Björgvin: I would have been very unhappy had he not won. I am grateful that I got the chance to compete against him and see him win another CrossFit Games. Especially because this might have been his last. It was a truly great experience and I value the memory.
Erik: Personally and on behalf of everybody reading this, I thank you for your time and great answers. I am happy that we could delve into your first Games experience in such detail. I think a lot of people are excited to see what next year will bring for you and I certainly wish you good luck in training.